Positive Discipline Tips and Tools
When all is said and done, successful parenting is about raising children in such a way that they become capable, competent, happy adults. Parents must understand typical behavior (age, emotional development, temperament, etc.) and the impact of any special circumstances (giftedness, a diagnosis, adoption, having a single parent, etc.). The following are just a few tools from the Positive Discipline toolbox that you may find useful as you parent your child.
Connection before correction. All important learning, especially early in life, happens in the context of relationship. Children don’t need computers or technology; they need relaxed, face-to-face time with you. Teaching and discipline are much easier when you connect with your child first and look for solutions after.
Use positive time out. Brain science has taught us that when we are angry or stressed, our problem-solving prefrontal cortex disconnects, leaving us with only emotional and physical energy (commonly known as “losing it”). When conflict and disagreement happen, take time to cool off before responding and teach your children to do the same. When everyone is back in his/her rational brain, you can proceed to solving the problem together.
Decide what you will do. Parents often want to decide what their children will do, but ultimately the only person you control is yourself. Focus on deciding what you will do: I will read when you are quiet. I will drive the car when you have your seatbelts on. I will throw the ball with you three more times, and then I will go inside to start dinner.
Be kind (connected) and firm at the same time. Too much kindness is pampering and permissive; too much firmness is dictatorial. Neither style will get you the long-term results you want. But learning to be kind and firm at the same time has been shown by research to be the most effective parenting style. Mean what you say, and follow through with respect and dignity for the child and for yourself.
Focus on solutions instead of consequences. Remember, the word “discipline” means “to teach” and has nothing to do with punishment. “Consequences” has become just another word for punishment, which is ultimately ineffective in teaching long-term skills and character qualities. What does your child need to learn? You’ll know you’ve found a solution when the problem goes away.
Invite your child’s cooperation and engagement. Look for solutions with your child. Plan tasks together; invite his/her creativity and ideas to solve problems you face together. Children are almost always more cooperative when they feel seen and heard, and can be marvelous problem-solvers when given the opportunity.
Offer encouragement rather than praise or rewards. Encouragement recognizes effort; praise notices only achievement. Rewards may get you a short-term change in behavior but ultimately will not produce long-term growth or learning. Notice what your child does right and comment on her/his efforts.
Spend special time; listen deeply. Too many families are overscheduled, always dashing off to an activity. Make sure you build time for connection into your daily life by spending “special time” with each of your children on a regular basis. Even 10 minutes a day of uninterrupted time together can make a significant difference in your relationship. Turn off the technology, make eye contact, and just hang out.
Have regular family meetings. Having weekly family meetings will give everyone in the family time to connect, appreciate each other, solve problems together, and have fun. Begin with compliments and appreciations; review past solutions and decisions; brainstorm together for solutions to problems listed by family members on an agenda board; and finish up with a game or dessert together.
Remember that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. When someone makes a mistake, clean up the mess as best you can, then do the learning together to prevent that mistake from happening again.
Make sure the message of love and respect get through. Be sure your kids know that the reason you care about rules and goals is because you care about them. Take time to hug, to laugh, and to love each other. After all, it’s why you have a family in the first place.
(Prepared by Cheryl L. Erwin, MA, MFT; based on information in the Positive Discipline series of books by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, Lynn Lott, and others. For more information, visit http://www.cherylerwin.com.)
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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